Could a spinning space craft be the solution to the problems of micro gravity?

22 March 2016

Question

Could a spinning space craft be the solution to the problems of micro gravity?

Answer

Physicist Dave Ansell had a spin at answering David Oehl's question... Dave - Microgravity is really bad for you because all sorts of things stop working. Your bones get very, very weak, your muscles get very, very weak.

Chris - What does it actually mean?

Dave - Microgravity, - if you're in space, if you're in orbit you're just free falling which means that everything is falling with you which means that you're effectively weightless because everything is falling at exactly the same speed as you are. So you can push off and float around - really quite fun but quite unhealthy. So the suggestion and it's actually been suggested for a long time (it might have been Arthur C. Clarke who came up with it)...

Chris - 2001: A Space Odyssey had a spinning space station.

Dave - A spinning space station because if you get a bucket and spin it round your head, then you need to apply a force to pull it in to keep it going in a circle.

Chris - But the evidence is if you fill it with water, the water doesn't come out.

Dave - Doesn't fall out. So basically you change the direction of gravity, and if you're in space the same thing happens and you'd create artificial gravity.

Chris - So if you had a big ring that was spinning, the person standing in one part of that ring in the same way as the fairground ride creates a sort of centrifugal effect, you feel thrown outwards and the ride pushes you back in to stop you flying off, the space station would, effectively, push up through the floor at you?

Dave - Yes. I think the reason why they haven't done it so far is that you either need to spin very, very fast or you need to be very, very big and that makes everything very heavy and basically, no-ones build a space station big enough or had people up there long enough to make it worthwhile doing it.

Chris - So if you had something very small that was turning very fast would that, nonetheless, whilst making some gravity make people feel extremely unwell whereas the rationale would be if you make it very big, the sense of rotation for a person would be smaller but they'd still, nonetheless, get the effect?

Dave - You probably would feel quite uncomfortable because, apart from anything else, everything would behave very, very strangely because you would get not just the centrifugal force, you get what's called the coriolis force so if you threw something into the middle of a spaceship it would actually spin round and end up going in a completely different direction from one you'd expect it to be. I don't know at what point it's actually worth doing this. Certainly there has been talk of doing it if you're sending someone to Mars over a few months if they're still in one piece to get there but certainly so far, no-one's tried.

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